An L.A. Group Show Looks at the Vibrant Past and Present of South Korean Art and Design

  • Image courtesy of Seomi International.

In 2014, an exhibition at LACMA featured artwork from the Kingdom of Joseon, the Confucian dynasty that ruled Korea for roughly 500 years until 1910, when the Korean peninsula was annexed by the Empire of Japan. The show explored how Korean culture has changed over the centuries, particularly after industrialization. Now, two years later, Seomi International draws on similar themes for “Naturalism: In Modernization and Destruction,” a multifaceted group show at the L.A. gallery.

Several of the artists and designers work with traditional material (walnut, ceramic, enamel) to pair intricate textures with organic shapes. For example, Bae Se Hwa’s steam-bent walnut piece, Steam 21 (2012), follows a seductive curve. Its unusual shape could nevertheless accommodate several sitters.

In contrast to Bae Se Hwa’s large-scale, functional furniture, Lee Hun Chung’s ceramic pieces—stools, tables, planters, and miscellaneous decorative objects—offer imperfect and irregular juxtapositions of material and texture.Bada 20150420-01 (2015) combines concrete and glazed ceramic, resulting in a curious arrangement: an industrial top and a barnacled bottom.

  • Image courtesy of Seomi International.

Meanwhile, Bada150907-06 (2015) comprises three separate stumplike pieces shaped like armless chairs. Painted in brown and beige tones and edged with gold paint, they look touched by fire—“a trace of labor and natural phenomena,” Chung calls it.

  • Image courtesy of Seomi International.

Especially striking are several round, white vessels—moon jars—by Kwon Dae Sup. This minimalist Korean tradition, which dates to the 14th century, was inspired by the shape of the moon’s reflection on water. The simple style offers an alluring visual break from busier works on display. Taken together, however, the works provide an expansive view of Korean creativity.


—Anna Furman


Naturalism: In Modernization and Destruction” is on view at Seomi International, Los Angeles, May 10–Jul. 1, 2016.

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